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'Keep Moving Forward' Urges ClassPass Founder Payal Kadakia, Who Means It Both Figuratively and Literally

She says movement is the key to breaking through a stressful day.
'Keep Moving Forward' Urges ClassPass Founder Payal Kadakia, Who Means It Both Figuratively and Literally
Image credit: Courtesy of Payal Kadakia
Entrepreneur Staff
Staff Writer. Covers leadership, media, technology and culture.
8 min read

Editor’s Note: Inspire Me is a series in which entrepreneurs and leaders share what motivates them through good times and bad, while also sharing stories of how they overcame challenges in hopes of inspiring others.

From a young age, Payal Kadakia’s passion was dance. It was an inability to find a good class that she liked and aligned with her work schedule that inspired her to leave her job in business development at Warner Music Group and launch ClassPass, a booking platform where people could choose from a variety of courses and studios that would fit into and enhance their busy lives. However, Kadakia says the demands of being a founder and growing her global company could easily keep her chained behind a desk and out of the dance studio.

Kadakia has to constantly work to make sure that amid all the logistics and expansion, she doesn’t lose sight of why she wanted to start the businesses in the first place. When she feels as though she is struggling to lead, she turns to dance classes that restore her energy and help her come up with the most creative solutions. And if she can’t get physically moving in a class, she moves her focus to another project or changes up her environment to make sure that she makes the most of her time and resources, especially when she’s in uncharted territory.

Today, seven years after she founded her company, ClassPass has a staff of 200 employees and has expanded to 48 cities, where more than 35 million classes have been booked. But ClassPass isn’t Kadakia’s only focus. She also runs organization called the Sa Dance company, which  is focused on Indian dance.

Kadakia shared her tactics that have helped her stay strong when things get tough.

Related: This Successful Entrepreneur Explains Why You Can't Succeed Unless You Invest in Yourself

What is a quote that inspires you and why?
For the past seven years, every morning I go try and find a quote for myself. It's something I do that is part of my everyday morning routine, because I felt like it helped center me and also gave me something positive to share with others. One of my favorites is from Oprah Winfrey: "Surround yourself with those who lift you higher." Because I think people are everything, and in moments where you need to keep pushing through and trusting your gut, having great people who want you to keep going and will encourage you is great to have.

What is a book that inspires you and why?
Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson -- I've always been both a left-brained analytical business person and/or right-brained creative. I have a dance company, as well as founding ClassPass. I've always sort of had both sides of my life pretty prominent, and I really loved seeing how people like that lead, because he was creative and also got his product out there in a very scalable way and had an impact [on a lot of] people. Those lessons have been really inspiring.

When you know you're facing a serious challenge or obstacle, how do you motivate/energize yourself to tackle it?
At the end of the day for me it's movement. Sometimes I will either go for a run or get to class. Just switch up what what's blocking me or what I’m stressed about. In those moments, you have to stop for a second and remember why you're doing it -- that's the number one thing. And then create a plan to move forward. So, usually, when I feel stressed out, I love making lists, because it very quickly shows what I need to tackle. And it really shows me why I'm doing it so I can re-engage. The other thing I like to do is sometimes just literally go for a run. It switches my frame of reference, and it releases the endorphins needed to keep moving forward and be excited.

Who is a woman that inspires you and why?
My mother. If there's a problem or there's something that needs to get done, my mom will be the first person I will ask, 'How do I do it?'

I feel really lucky, because I grew up with a very dominant mother in the sense that she was the dominant parent in my family. Because of that I've seen how women can lead. In my mind, that was just the status quo. At the same time, I also really respect my dad, who supported that because I think [it] showed me how women can be anything.

Related: SXSW: What ClassPass Learned About Making Decisions Easier for Customers

What inspires you at work?
The impact we're having on our customers. At the core of that is our reservation numbers. Every single time someone goes to class, to me we've given them an hour of their life in a way that is going to be used doing something that is better for them. I remember the first reservation we had as a company, and now we're close to 50 million. To me that is the heartbeat of the company.

And I think about that as hours of people's lives we've touched. I've danced my whole life, and I know the exact feeling I get when I'm moving and dancing, and there's nothing that compares to that. What inspires me is I know we're giving so many people around the world that [feeling] every single day.

Are there lessons from earlier bosses or mentors that you think back on when you need an extra boost or bit of encouragement?
One of the things I have learned as a leader is you have to share who you are authentically -- for females, even more so. It's really important that we're we're creating role models for people that they feel like they can connect to. I remember I had bosses early on [in my career], but I didn't know who they were. I didn't know if they were happy or what was going on in their lives.

I feel like it makes [my employees] happy to know I'm a happy person while I'm doing my job. It gives them hope that you can you can have balance in your life and also keep achieving your dreams.

Who or what has inspired you to be a better person?
My parents, especially my dad. My dad is one of the kindest people alive. I don't think my dad ever lied in his life -- I was taught that, at a very young age. 

Also, dance [has inspired me]. When you find a way to express something and touch people's lives at a very young age, [you find a power] that you have as human being. I also think, in a way, dance made me realize I can make people happy. I've [always] really enjoyed making people feel something [good]… through art or through my product or whatever else.

When you are feeling at your worst, what inspires you?
Action inspires me. You either can fall into this hole where you can do nothing or start working toward something [that makes you] feel better. You can't work towards something you don't intrinsically care about. So it's not just about going out and doing things. It's really about working for something with a bigger purpose.

For those women who are looking to start a business, but are feeling discouraged, what advice do you have for them to keep going?
If you believe so wholeheartedly in your mission, you will be able to overcome anything. If you're hitting one of those doubt points, talk to someone like an adviser or a mentor [who can help you] reconnect with your mission, because sometimes we start doing all these other things and forget why we started the company in the first place. That's really important to reconnect to, and just keep going.

The worst thing to do is get to a point where things aren't happening and moving forward. To me, that's the death of any company. You just have got to do whatever you need to do in order to keep the engine going or mentally reset. Keep moving forward.

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